by David Safier
My headline may have created a false choice between high standardized test scores on the one hand and creativity and entrepreneurship on the other. But maybe not. Yong Zhao, associate dean for global education in the college of education at the University of Oregon and author of works about global education, creativity and entrepreneurship, makes a strong case that an overemphasis on high stakes testing works against those traits in students that encourage them to think outside the box. Teach them there's one right answer and one right way of doing things, and they're less likely to come up with new ways of doing things or risk starting new businesses from scratch. [Note: the column is on the subscription-only Education Week website.]
The author finds a strong correlation between countries putting the greatest emphasis on high stakes tests and those with low scores on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).
Comparing the two sets of data shows clearly countries that score high on PISA [the international student assessment exam] do not have levels of entrepreneurship that match their stellar scores. More importantly, it seems that countries with higher PISA scores have fewer people confident in their entrepreneurial capabilities. Out of the innovation-driven economies, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are among the best PISA performers, but their scores on the measure of perceived capabilities or confidence in one's ability to start a new business are the lowest.
Asian educators frequently travel to the U.S. to study how we foster the entrepreneurial spirit in our students. This negative correlation may help explain why.
The outlier here is Finland, whose students score very high on PISA and reasonably high on GEM as well. But Finland's schools are an outlier in many ways. They somehow manage to top the charts on international test scores even though they are, in the author's words, a "standardized-testing-free zone." Finnish students don't take standardized tests until the end of high school.
Some skeptics (and I encourage skeptics, being one myself) might be saying Yong Zhao is creating a false causation here. It may be that the history and culture of Asian countries downplays the qualities that would encourage entrepreneurship. In other words, it may be more about the society and less about the school's emphasis on testing. Fine, let's go there.
Most of the current arguments about the weakness of U.S. education are based on international comparisons. But maybe that's a false correlation. Maybe it's the history and culture of Asian societies, whose students tend to score high on international tests, and not the schools that drive students to high achievement on standardized tests. Actually, that notion is reinforced by the fact that Asian-American students score similarly on international tests to students in Asian countries, and European-American student scores are similar to those of European students.
Our education system is wildly flawed, especially when it comes to educating students in the lowest socioeconomic strata. But the standard line that our schools stink because our students don't rank at the top of international test scores is both simplistic and wrong. Anyone who swallows that line is swallowing hogwash.